Oddments

In search of story


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Face value

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Just another pretty face? I don’t think so.

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Can you look at a pansy and not be smitten by the pretty face before you? There is no “just” about it; it is mesmerizing in its velvety contour and coquettish symmetry. And what about that radiant depth of purple and magenta? Westminster never saw the like.

Unbidden, a Mom memory pops up as I contemplate prettiness: my mother told me I was not a pretty baby. Really now. Aren’t mothers supposed to deal in superlatives? As in My baby is the prettiest/cutest/smartest? She said I was a sweet baby. Sweet? Sweet never set anyone on a path to fame and fortune! Who wants to be sweet?

I had long been aware that my mother was disappointed in my looks. She SO wanted a Ginger Rogers, but she got me. I had no idea — until advanced adulthood — that she hadn’t even thought I was a pretty baby.

Life has introduced me to many other women who tell similar stories: their mothers were disappointed in them and made it known. What’s up with that? Why the heaping tablespoon of daily criticism?

I have read that in some traditions mothers call their daughters horrible things in order to keep the devil away. Mom’s mom never had a kind word to say to or about her — was she protecting Mom from the devil? Do I wear the amulet of generations of harsh words? If so, its power will protect my female descendants into perpetuity.

A mother’s approval is not a jinx. The pansies and I say so.

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Killer instinct

I knew I could kill. That was a revelation very early in motherhood. I had no idea such an instinct lay dormant in me until labor and birth awakened it: I knew that if something or someone came at my baby to harm him, I could kill. That was more than a revelation; it was a shock. I’m pretty well known as a wimp, and proud to say it.

Recently I had cause to reflect on my latent killer instinct. I was driving on a lazy street with little traffic, thank goodness, when I spotted an obstacle in the middle of my lane. An ugly, greasy, stupid, arrogant, fat, feathered hog. Yes, a Canadian goose. The Protected. Grudgingly I slowed and, as an inveterate non-honker, fumbled for my horn. One good honk deserves another, right?

But he stood fast, immobile, intractable, feigning deafness. He was taller than the hood of my SUV and that single beady little eye was fixed on me. I double-dog dare you! it said. I sensed federal agents hiding in the bushes, taping the encounter. Nonetheless, I inched forward, leonine, taut, tempted.

Closer, closer. Was he scared? Not a bit. It was a stand-off. SUV vs goose. Would one flattened goose really be such a devastating loss to the planet?

I don’t know if my front bumper made contact — I hoped not because then I’d have to wash it — but it was close. What arose in me was perhaps not the same thing as mother’s instinct so much as the preference not to be bested by this girth-bound bird-brain, but still the urge was strong even as he eventually waddled off in antagonizing slow-motion.

We will meet again.